January 2008 Reflection

If I might brand a bit of advice into the brain of every future Mitchell scholar: during your time in Ireland, find your way to an Irish sing-song. Arthur, Nate, Jeff, and I were lucky enough to take one in after a rugby match in Limerick, in the oldest pub in the city, immediately following a Munster win. There is little predictable logic to a sing-song, since you don’t know when it starts and you can’t know when it will end, so finding one will require some measure of patience and resolve. But if you do manage to catch one, then you’re in for an evening straight out of Irish legend. Be forewarned: an American at an Irish singsong lives in something of a social limbo; you won’t know the words or the tunes, and your contribution will be minimal, coming as you do from a culture that has few shared anthems. So just drink it in, and repeat the chorus when you can. And when in doubt, do as Art, Nate, Jeff, and I did, and belt out “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”—it’s reliable and catchy, and you can bet that someone in the audience will help you out when you inevitably botch a line or two. (Kudos to Jeff for adding “Man of Constant Sorrow” to the mix.)

When I haven’t been singing, I’ve been helping to clarify the conundrums of American politics to my Irish friends. (Just how you describe a caucus as anything more than a cross between an English comedy and a rodeo is beyond me.) But with results that seem to defy any conventional wisdom, I’m not sure I can be of much service. My Irish colleagues and I have been sharing the wide-eyed bewilderment at the results from across the ocean, and they, like many of the young people of my generation, are about as excited about Barack Obama as an earlier generation of foreign nationals must have been about Jack Kennedy. Of course, the representative sample of my politics graduate program would be incomplete without its obligatory Ron Paul acolyte. But we’ve got one of those, along with a healthy cross-section of McCain and Clinton supporters, the latter group of which embraces the same nostalgia for the Clinton years that so many of her backers do. At the outset of the year, I had thought that being an ocean away during the electoral horserace would leave me at something of a disadvantage, but it has actually been a nourishing occasion. Being away and having access only to the best guesses of pundits has been a healthy reminder not only of the sheer unpredictability of it all, but also the extent to which, in this election more than others, the world is hungry for real American leadership.

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